Russian attacks on medical infrastructure aim to destroy the Ukrainian spirit and wear down communities

In Kharkiv, they came across a blood bank where donors were queuing. The cluster munitions left small mortar-like craters all over the site and killed, witnesses said, a man who had gone outside to smoke.

n Schastye they bombed the electricity and water pumping station in the two days before the invasion, leaving the entire town without running water and forcing families to queue at wells during the barrage.

In Mariupol yesterday they razed a maternity ward – thankfully evacuated – and according to local authorities tries to cut off the water supply.

These are just three attacks on critical civilian infrastructure reported in Ukraine over the past week of war as Russia attempted to break down resistance.

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There are two goals.

Coupled with the relentless bombing of neighborhoods – Saltivka in Kharkiv, Levoberezhny in Mariupol – the strikes appear aimed at rendering cities uninhabitable and forcing surrender.

It also sends a warning to leaders in other cities: Do you really want your citizens exposed to this?

The threat appears to have worked in Kherson, the strategic river crossing in southern Ukraine that Russia seized control of on Wednesday.

Igor Kolykhayev, the city’s mayor, said in a Facebook post that “armed visitors” had attended a city council meeting – and that he had agreed to certain conditions, including a curfew and that pedestrians would walk in groups of one or two to keep the city going.

“I didn’t promise you anything. I just have nothing to promise,” he wrote.

“I just asked not to shoot people. We have no Ukrainian armed forces in the city, only civilians and people who want to LIVE here!

“Let it be now. The flag above us is Ukrainian. And to keep it that way, these requirements must be met. I can’t offer anything else.”

Some accused Mr. Kolykhayev of surrendering without a fight, although there had certainly been several days of fighting in and around the city before the surrender.

But given what is happening in Kyiv, Kharkiv and Mariupol, can anyone really blame him?

The Kremlin hopes other cities will follow suit. In Kyiv, leaders will urge other local leaders to hold on.

There is a dark military logic behind this.

Before his death, I had a series of conversations with James le Mesurier, the ex-British soldier who co-founded the Syrian civil defense group White Helmets.

The White Helmets were rescue workers – their job was simply saving lives and removing civilians from buildings. But after Russia entered the Syrian war in 2015, they became a prime target for both Russia’s military and propaganda efforts.

On the battlefield, the Russian Air Force began “double tap” attacks to kill rescuers responding to an earlier airstrike. Meanwhile, its diplomats and media launched a ruthless propaganda campaign portraying the group as terrorists with al-Qaeda ties.

What on earth, I asked him, would the Russians have against an ambulance? It’s easy, he explained.

Medical infrastructure – hospitals, doctors, emergency services – makes communities resilient. As long as they function, cities and communities can continue to function even under remarkably difficult conditions.

But destroy these things and people will have to leave very quickly.

Russia’s commanders may not have originally intended to use these tactics in Ukraine. Naive, Mr. Putin seems to have assumed that his troops would either be welcomed with open arms, or that local mayors would simply make a pragmatic — albeit reluctant — adjustment.

This is largely what happened in Crimea in 2014 and later this year in some parts of the Donbass region.

The fall of Kherson may give the Kremlin hope that the demonstration of overwhelming violence could bear fruit elsewhere – if they just stick it out a little longer.

President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy yesterday morning urged the Ukrainians to keep their nerves. He and his people are hoping that the resistance will finally see Russian morale crumble – if they just hold on a little longer.

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2021] Russian attacks on medical infrastructure aim to destroy the Ukrainian spirit and wear down communities

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